Search for air crash clues

2009-10-22 18:15

Dubai - Investigators in the United Arab Emirates searched for clues on Thursday into what caused a Sudanese Boeing 707 cargo plane to crash shortly after take off north of Dubai, killing its crew.

The UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority is leading the investigation into Wednesday's accident. It has not released any preliminary findings into what went wrong.

Abdel Hafez Abdel Rahim, a spokesperson for the Sudanese Civil Aviation Authority, said two investigators from the African nation are heading to the Emirates to take part in the probe. He declined to speculate about the cause of the crash.

Too early

"There is no word yet. It is too early to speak about the causes," he said.

Sheik Khalid al-Qassimi, director of the Sharjah department of civil aviation, said he had no new information to provide when asked by The Associated Press.

Emirates officials say Sudan Airways flight 2241 went down at 15:31, two minutes after takeoff from Sharjah International Airport. It was bound for the Sudanese capital Khartoum and was carrying "general cargo" with a crew of six.

Witnesses described seeing the plane veer sharply to the right as it struggled to gain altitude before crashing nose first into the ground.

"It couldn't have been any more than 100m off the ground," said Bill Buchanan, a Dubai resident who saw the accident. "You could see it wasn't going to get any higher."

No ground casualties

The plane came down in an uninhabited stretch of desert next to a golf course, avoiding residential areas nearby. No casualties were reported on the ground.

The runway was shut briefly for inspection immediately following the crash, forcing eight incoming flights to be diverted, according to an airport statement. It has since re-opened.

Once one of the main airports in the lower Gulf, Sharjah airport is now mostly used by cargo operators and low-cost carriers. Air Arabia, the region's biggest budget airline, is based at the airport.

Dubai International Airport, the Middle East's busiest, is located about 16km south west of Sharjah airport.

The crash was the second for Sudan Airways in less than a year and a half.

In June 2008, a Sudan Airways Airbus A310 skidded off the runaway upon landing in Khartoum and burst into flames, killing at least 30 people. More than 170 others escaped.

Poor safety record

Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. In May 2008, a plane crash in a remote area of southern Sudan killed 24 people, including key members of the southern Sudanese government. In July 2003, a Sudan Airways Boeing 737 en route from Port Sudan to Khartoum crashed soon after take off, killing all 115 people onboard.

Although operated by Sudan Airways, the ageing plane in Wednesday's crash was owned by another Sudanese company, Azza Transport.

Neither company could be reached for comment.

In 2007, Azza was implicated in a United Nations report that accused the Sudanese government of violating a UN arms embargo by flying military aircraft, weapons and ammunition into conflict ravaged Darfur by disguising planes to look like UN aircraft.

The report included a photo of a plane the UN said was operated by Azza but owned by another airline. Its cargo, which was unloaded by the Sudanese armed forces, included two howitzers and between 40 and 50 wooden boxes suspected of containing arms and ammunition, the report said.

Sudan's UN ambassador at the time blasted the panel's allegations as "fabrications" and called for an investigation into the findings.